Jonathan Simkhai’s love of fashion started long before he knew he wanted to be a designer. Between bonding with his mom in department stores and helping his girlfriends go shopping, Simkhai began to develop a discerning eye for style. The New York native worked in retail and buying throughout his college years at Parsons and FIT, and realized just how much he enjoyed dressing women and making them look and feel their best.
In 2010 he launched his namesake label of womenswear inspired by menswear. With this gender ambiguity always at the core, his vision for sophisticated, contemporary women has grown stronger and stronger each season and is carried by major retailers including Barneys.
Simkhai has a lovely studio space thanks to the CFDA incubator program, but this chat took place over Skype since he’s in China on a sourcing trip (he manufactures around the world and domestically).Read on to learn about how everything from boxer briefs to Drew Barrymore helped him build his successful brand.
Tell me about how you got into fashion at a young age.
Jonathan Simkhai: My mom always took me shopping growing up. We would bond over her outfits and being at department stores. I also used to take one of my best girlfriends shopping and help her choose what to buy. I remember being with her at this store called Havana Jeans in Scarsdale, and the storekeeper told me she had been watching and listening to me and wanted to offer me a job. I was only 14 and said no. Down the road I called her back because I decided I did want to be in that world. I ended up working there about five years. I started doing buying for them, which I loved. I also loved being on the floor. I always enjoyed dressing women and putting them in a good mood and making them happy.
How did you start designing?